MANILA, Philippines – Officials suspended school classes in Manila and nearby provinces Wednesday after Typhoon Durian gained strength as it barreled toward an eastern Philippine island.
With sustained winds of 119 miles per hour and gusts of up to 140 mph the cyclone — named after a pungent fruit native to Southeast Asia — has become a super typhoon, said chief weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz.
Cruz said officials approved his recommendation to suspend Thursday's classes in metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces. Classes already have been suspended on the island province of Catanduanes, where the typhoon is expected to slam ashore Thursday morning, and in five other eastern provinces with the highest storm alerts.
More than 25 provinces and the Philippine capital, Manila, are under storm alerts.
Moving westward at a relatively fast 15 mph, Manila or the region just south of it could be battered by the typhoon Friday morning.
Antonio Golez, deputy chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, said all local governments and agencies in the affected areas have been alerted for emergency operations.
He said his agency also has directed billboard owners to pull down their tarpaulins to prevent a repeat of the collapse of many such structures, killing at least one person, when another typhoon hit Manila in September.
Cruz said the central Bicol region, about 185 miles southeast of Manila, was already feeling the effects of the typhoon with rains and winds.
He warned residents in low-lying and coastal areas to watch out for storm surges, or big waves generated by strong winds.
In late September, Typhoon Xangsane left 230 people dead and missing in and around Manila. Typhoon Cimaron killed 19 people and injured 58 others late last month, and earlier this month, Chebi sliced through the central Luzon region, killing one.
About 20 typhoons and tropical storms lash the Philippines each year.
Mayor Noel Rosal of Legazpi city in northeastern Albay province, one of the areas ravaged by the previous typhoons, said disaster response agencies were working overtime to prepare for possible emergencies.
"Electric power hasn't even been restored to some villages. But now that the threat is here, we have no choice but to prepare," Rosal told Manila Radio DZRH.
In central Sorsogon province, Mayor Guillermo So said the coast guard barred ferries from leaving ports to prevent accidents.